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Porsche Macan vs Audi SQ5 vs Evoque

  1. Of all the things Porsche Macan drivers might expect to see in the rear view, an actual tank is surely way down the list. And I have to tell you, being chased by a tank brings a very real stab of fear. Even if the tank is there only to provide us with a joke picture, rather than with any intent to imperil us. The sight of that hunk of olive-drab metalwork lumbering over the terrain, accompanied by the screeching and clanking of its tracks, invokes a deep-rooted vulnerability and sense of conflict disconnected with this pastoral Leicestershire landscape. And that response comes just from watching the news. I can’t imagine how it must make you feel if you’ve ever actually been in a war zone.

    Pictures: Jamie Lipman

    This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of Top Gear magazine

    A special thanks to www.armourgeddon.co.uk for allowing us access to its site and tanks

  2. The tank, in this case a British-made FV430, is all about the single-minded pursuit of a task. It brooks absolutely no frivolity. The soldiers inside certainly get no concessions. They’re crammed into a windowless unpadded noisy hellhole that can reach 60 degrees if they’re fighting in the desert sun. This might be an off-roader, but it couldn’t be more different from these three cars and their peacockish strut. They set out their stall as leisure-lifestyle haulers, all-weather capable, with a dose of style and decadence. “Luxury crossovers” - a portmanteau name for portmanteau vehicles.

  3. Except Porsche would tell you the Macan is a specialist. It has “no room for compromise” because it’s “the first sports car among compact SUVs”. Porsche’s words. Mind you, given that Ferdinand Porsche got involved in building WWII tanks, his company would readily concede the Macan isn’t as single-minded as the FV430. But the Macan has been developed to get around a racetrack as fast as an SUV will go, and our tester proves it by wearing 295/35 21 rear tyres. Porsche says that although the Macan began its gestation as an Audi Q5 relative, it changed so much along the development path that it’s now an independent car, a pure Porsche with pure Porsche abilities. Well, you might think tuning an SUV for the track is like teaching a hippo to do needlepoint. Quite an achievement, if pointless.

  4. Even so, the ability to embroider wouldn’t deprive the hippo of its innate abilities to yawn, fight, graze and do other hippo stuff. It turns out the Macan’s abilities as a luxo-crossover do not survive unscathed from its acquisition of track skills. The ride is hard-edged in town and gritty on big roads. It kicks up a hulaballoo of road noise. It uses a DSG transmission for quicker shifts, but driven gently this often jerks infuriatingly, especially on automatic downchanges. The brakes are calibrated to bring this heavy machine down from big speeds, which makes them ridiculously over-servoed in urban driving. Oops.

  5. Still, it must be a hoot on a nice flowing B-road, eh? Not really. Oh, it gets along sharpish: the body control is terrific, lateral grip through bends iron-willed, steering precise and progressive once it’s on lock. But the truth is, in V6 Diesel S form, the engine is quiet and smooth but not memorably quick. If this were a petrol Macan Turbo, I suspect the hilarious acceleration would sweep all doubts aside. But the Diesel S doesn’t quite cut it - the in-no-way-related-oh-no Audi SQ5 has a more powerful bi-turbo diesel V6. Now, a base-model Boxster isn’t all that fast, but it does provide delicious feedback sensations, a fluency that connects you intimately with its workings. The Macan doesn’t. It’s engaging by SUV standards, but remote and aloof compared with cars. Not even sports cars - just sporty cars.

  6. Still, being chased around by the tank does show it’s not entirely without off-road smarts. The air suspension can be raised to give it extra ground clearance, and there’s useful electronic traction and diff control. But you just know those tyres would be completely hopeless in snow or mud, and they also turn out to be hopeless on a dusty track too. Invisible sidewall damage soon gives us a flat, even though we’ve rarely gone above 20mph in the field. There’s no spare of any kind. Scrambling a fresh unidirectional 295/35 21 isn’t the work of a moment, or of an afternoon. We’re marooned, the fiction of SUV indomitability cruelly exposed.

  7. The SQ5 nearly came to grief off-road too, simply because its ground clearance is fixed and limited. But it managed. And out on the road, its extra power - 309bhp versus 254 - stomps away from the Macan. It’s the same basic engine as the Porsche, and still uncannily smooth and quiet for a diesel unless you absolutely paste it. The SQ5’s eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic takes smooth advantage, making it easily the best powertrain in this test. It also makes less road noise than the Macan and its secondary ride isn’t so gritty. Mind you, its primary ride is lumpier - it gets thrown about more by bigger B-road bumps, and the high-speed body control is a bit messier. Its chassis is non-adaptive, which must have something to do with it. Neither is its steering as precise as the Porsche’s, but it does serve up some feel - normally a message of understeer. For this sort of driving, an A6 Allroad with the same bi-turbo engine makes all sorts of extra sense.

    So I’m guessing that a Macan on, say, all-season 19s but keeping the test car’s optional £1,789 chassis bundle of air suspension and electronic dampers would have the potential to be a far more agreeable ride/handling compromise than when it’s hobbled by the 21s. And it’d give better SUV ability too.

  8. Against these brawny V6s, the 2.2-litre, 190bhp four in the Evoque was always going to struggle. For a start, it sounds a whole lot more workaday. Yet in acceleration from lowish speeds, the deficit isn’t as much as you might imagine. Two reasons: first it’s around 15 per cent lighter than the others, and second it’s got a nine-speed auto transmission, new for this year. But at main-road speeds, when weight gives way to drag as the main resistance to acceleration, the Evoque really does start to fall behind. The nine-speed is interesting: it allows a low first for off-roading and a long ninth for relaxed motorway work, not to mention fuel saving. But it isn’t an unqualified success. If you’re on and off the accelerator, it’s up and down the gears like York’s 10,000 men. The Jeep Cherokee, using the same transmission, suffers the same issues. Give them time, and no doubt both manufacturers will finesse the programming.

  9. If the Evoque’s performance is down on the other two here, the chassis doesn’t leave you wanting for a whole lot more poke. The steering’s nicely calibrated, but there isn’t the sense of control once you start to press on. It gets bumped about a bit, and will weave about under braking. In Dynamic spec, you do get adaptive damping, but the ride isn’t as placid as you’d want a Range Rover to be, and there’s more motorway hubbub. That said, when you wind up the stereo to drown it out, the Evoque’s £1,000 Meridian is more listenable than the Porsche’s harsh, metallic £3,229 Burmester rig.

    Where no road exists, the Evoque has always proven mighty plucky in TG’s adventurings. In the off-road-lite work of this test, it never felt troubled. Its tricks include terrain response, and wading sensors that tell you when you’re reaching the depth that’ll drown it.

  10. So that’s the crossover bit. What about the luxury? The Range Rover has the softest leather, which hardly matters for comfort but does just give you a welcoming caress. More important, it isn’t designed like a car and doesn’t have the look and feel of one. Because RR doesn’t make cars. Well, if you’re going to have a crossover, why have one with the ambience of a jacked-up car? That’s the trouble with the SQ5 - it’s too like an elevated A4. Yes, the A4 has one of the best-crafted saloon cabins, but couldn’t Audi have re-spiced the recipe for the SQ5? The Macan also has a car-like interior, but since the car in question is a 911 we feel better about the plagiarism.

  11. Most importantly, the height is what makes crossovers so beguiling. Sure, it is exactly the thing that undermines the dynamics, but if you’re driving along in normally trafficked roads, the extra foot of altitude compared with a car really does give you an emphatically more enjoyable perspective and a wider horizon. That in itself is a luxury. So is space, if you’re sitting in the back, where the Germans have more. The Evoque manages to eke out enough rear headroom from its low-roofed shape, but feet are squeezed under the front seats, and its boot can’t swallow so much of your leisure-themed equipment.

    But then, the Evoque tapers at the back because it’s styled that way. Its shape and detail still cut it, even lined up against the taut, flowing surfaces of the Macan’s handsome coachwork. In comparison, the Audi looks like it’s running to flab.

  12. The SQ5 is, though, something approaching a bargain. Its £44,715 buys 155mph, 5.1 seconds to 62, a six-cylinder diesel, eight-speed auto, in a big German premium machine. With Audi’s beautifully visualised satnav, a pack of driver aids and connectivity, parking aid and more, it still squeezes in under £50k. The Macan has an even more alluring opening bid at £43,300, but it isn’t as powerful or well specced. And when you add the options, they’re more expensive than the same things in the Audi. The tester had toys on its toys (powered, comfort seats £1,287, plus heating £518, plus venting £631.) So it weighed in at £65k, which means the price of its extras alone would buy two Dacia Dusters. Or four secondhand FV430 tanks. Many of the extras on the test car were inessential, and the £2,671 wheel-and-tyre package positively ruinous.

  13. The Evoque is selling like crazy, and you never seem to see one in boggo spec, so you can’t blame Land Rover for making hay with the price. Still, match the options with the SQ5, and the sticker isn’t so very different - and for a four-cylinder with that power deficit, it’s looking steep.

  14. Having slagged off the Macan for such a proportion of this feature, what I’m about to say might seem barmy. It’s really pretty excellent. Improbably agile, well-made, practical, quiet. But these tyres undermine half those qualities. The one we first drove in Germany, and greatly liked, wore 18-inch wheels and winter tyres. Oh, and it was a petrol Turbo. But even then, we didn’t fall in love with it because it wasn’t as much of a sense-tickling sports car as Porsche boasts. Porsche knows better than anyone that a sports car should do more than destroy distance. It should set your hands and feet and organs of balance all a-tingle. The Macan, if properly specced, is the best crossover, but it’s a steely piece of dead-eyed machinery. Albeit less so than the FV430.

  15. RANGE ROVER EVOQUE SD4

    Price: £45,160
    Engine: 2179cc, 4cyl turbodiesel, 190bhp, 309lb ft
    Performance: 0-62mph in 8.5secs, 121mph top speed
    Transmission: 9spd auto, 4WD
    Economy: 47.1mpg, 159g/km CO2
    Weight: 1685kg

  16. AUDI SQ5 3.0 BiTDI

    Price: £44,715
    Engine: 2967cc bi-turbodiesel V6, 309bhp, 480lb ft
    Performance: 0-62mph in 5.1secs, 155mph top speed
    Transmission: 8spd auto, 4WD
    Economy: 41.5mpg 179g/km CO2
    Weight: 1920kg

  17. PORSCHE MACAN S DIESEL

    Price: £43,300
    Engine: 2967cc V6 turbodiesel, 254bhp, 427lb ft
    Performance: 0-62mph in 6.3secs, 142mph top speed
    Transmission: 7spd auto, 4WD
    Economy: 44.8mpg 164g/km CO2
    Weight: 1955kg

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